In this rush-rush world of overcommitments and under-the-gun deadlines, it can be tough to stay on top of our health, and eating healthfully often takes a back seat.
"What's for dinner?" is often a frustrating question, not always yielding a good answer (or any answer at all). Finding healthy takeout can be both costly and challenging. Fast food doesn't translate to healthy food.
And cooking can be stressful and time consuming. By the time you're finished with all the decisions about what to cook and the ensuing planning, shopping, chopping and actual cooking, you wonder if it's worth all that time.
That's why meal delivery services, which began in 2012 and now comprise a $400 million market, are so popular. The shopping, planning and delivery are up to them; the meal is in your hands. You receive an insulated box containing your ingredients for the week, plus detailed recipe cards.
Here are five of the most popular services. Expect fresh ingredients that come fully measured and pre-portioned, all ready for you to don your apron, read the instructions and cook up a storm.
Though convenience is a big factor, be aware of a few things:
- You'll still need prep time to do things like chop and sauté.
- You will need to have some basic ingredients on hand, like eggs, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Most meals will take between 30 and 45 minutes to prepare.
- Many of the plans go heavy on the salt, making the sodium content high. If you want to limit your salt, forgo the shaker or add just a dash or two.
- You'll pay the same price no matter which meals you choose. To get the most for your money, you may want to choose the meals with pricier ingredients (for example, choose salmon over veggie pasta).
Hello Fresh offers three plans, with recipes changing weekly. Its Classic Plan costs $9.99 per meal and includes meat and fish; its Veggie Plan is available for the same price and includes meat-free proteins; its Family Plan is $8.74 per meal. Among its easy-to-prep recipes are dishes like Lasagna-baked Fusilli With Kale and Mozzarella; Lobster Ravioli and Shrimp With Heirloom Tomatoes and Tarragon Cream Sauce; and Chicken Under a Zucchini Blanket With Mashed Potatoes and Green beans.
HelloFresh received high marks from Consumer Reports, which rated its recipes lowest in fat content, calories and sodium among the five services it tested.
2. Green Chef
Green Chef has the widest range of meals to suit every diet, including vegetarian, carnivore, Paleo, and gluten-free. Ingredients are organic, and many of the meals come with prepared sauces and dressings (a further time-saver). You can order three meals a week for two, four or six people, priced at $10.49 (vegetarian); $11.99 (omnivore); $13.49 (carnivore); $13.49 (gluten-free) and $14.99 (Paleo). Meal prices don't include the $9 per box shipping fee.
Dishes include Pork Golumpki Ragout; Pink Peppercorn Salmon; Black Rice Stir-Fry; Spaghetti Squash Pasta; and Mongolian Tofu.
In its ratings, Consumer Reports gave Green Chef a score of "excellent."
3. Blue Apron
Blue Apron offers more ethnic-inspired recipes than many of the other plans, with fewer traditional-style meals. Its prices are lower than most, too: a two-person plan for three meals per week is $59.94, and its family plan that serves four totals $69.92 for two meals or $139.84 for four meals per week.
Meals include Spring Chicken Fettucine with Asparagus and Kale; Fresh Udon Noodle Stir-Fry with Asparagus and Togarashi; Greek Pizza with Kalamata Olives and Feta; and Crispy Cod Tacos with Chipotle Cabbage Slaw.
This service stands out from the others in that it offers suggested wine pairings for each meal and, as an additional service, can arrange for curated monthly wine shipments.
Consumer Reports awarded Blue Apron an overall score of "very good."
Plated offers a lot of flexibility in the number of meals you can order each week, allowing you to select as few or as many dinners as you'd like, from twice a week to every night of the week. Menus, which change weekly, include offerings for omnivores, vegetarians, and seafood lovers, with recipes like Brown Butter Orecchiette With Spicy Sausage and Peas; Salmon Fried Rice With Chinese Broccoli; Cheesy Baked Rice With Roasted Carrots and Parsnips; and Blackened Fish Sandwiches With Avocado Mash and Creamy Aioli. Dinners average about $12 per serving.
Plated is the only meal service that offers dessert options (for an additional $4 per portion), like Chocolate Caramel Turtles With Pecans and Sticky Monkey Bread With Walnuts and Cinnamon.
Among all plans tested by Consumer Reports, Plated got the highest score for taste and ease of preparation. The service will email you a few days in advance of delivery if there are extra ingredients you need to have on hand.
Purple Carrot is all about plant-based meals for vegans, with all its offerings containing whole grains or legumes and other high-fiber ingredients. Costs range from $68 per week for its two-person plan to $74 for the four-person plan. Choices, which are more limited than the other services, include Chinese Broccoli with Tofu and Peanut Sauce; Spinach Risotto with Spiced Chickpea Crumble; and Crisp Potato and Poblano with Red Cabbage Slaw.
Consumer Reports rated it as "very good."
If you prefer to save your money and start from scratch, HealthyWomen offers some healthy recipes for any meal or snack.